Death of a Spokesman?

Edelman has just published the latest findings from its ever-compelling Trust Barometer. The survey gauges public trust across a range of institutions, including governments, the media, NGOs and business. We always find it a great read and they generate a truck-load of coverage.

In keeping with the rest of agency-land, the ‘Employee Advocacy’ theme was writ large, and unsurprisingly, employees – that’s your ‘Ordinary Joes’ for want of a better form of words – were deemed incredibly trustworthy figures in regards to sharing company news. No real revelation here, in view of the fact that such people are unencumbered by the corporate baggage which thwarts more senior personnel from giving a relatively straightforward answer to a straightforward question. However, it’s a point that must not be overlooked, or denied by management teams; especially on noting that employees are the most trusted sources of information when it comes to “crisis handling”, “financial and operational performance” and “employee treatment”.  For far too many organisations, internal communications is a top-down process, which leaves the rank-and-file at best, indifferent and at worst, suspicious. As we’ve always counselled at CRP, employees need to be at the forefront of any organisational communications if management stand any chance of being heard.

What we found particularly interesting though was the plight of the official “media spokesperson”. To be precise, the company spokesman now ranks lower in terms of trust than ­all other stakeholders, including “activist consumers” and “academics” – essentially, the general public would trust outsiders more to give them accurate news about an organisation than the man, or woman on the inside who’s been tasked to tell them what’s happening. This, naturally, throws up some interesting questions – what, for instance, does that mean for media trainers, who pride themselves on developing polished corporate messengers? What of the individuals who are asked to play such roles – will they now think twice about the exposure to their own reputations? Do the findings signal the death knell of the official spokesperson? We find that unlikely, but what of the title – doesn’t the notion of spokesperson feel a little too regimented in the new, (flat) world order? As ever, we welcome your comments.